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Sunday, May 23, 2004
Briefing - Gaza Division Commander, Brig. Gen. Shmuel Zakai.

IDF SPOKESPERSON ANNOUNCEMENT 23 May 2004

The following is a summary of the briefing which was held by the commander
of the Gaza division, Brig. Gen. Shmuel Zakai.

It is difficult to explain what has been going on during this operation
without background on the last week's events.

Last week 13 IDF soldiers were killed as a result of RPGs which have been
fired at our forces in Gaza. A bus full of children was hit by another RPG
which was fired a month ago. Miraculously, no one was hurt. The weapons that
have been smuggled through the tunnels are becoming a higher endangerment,
and there is also the risk of smugglings of other weapons into the Gaza
strip.

We decided to initiate this operation in order to take action against the
weapons smuggling tunnels as well as the terrorists themselves.

The terrorist organizations are making tremendous efforts in order to
smuggle weapons which are a great threat to Israel. This was an operation
to protect the lives of our soldiers stationed in Gaza and Israeli civilians
living inside and outside the Gaza Strip. We do not want that civilians
living outside the Gaza Strip will be within striking range.

This is a complicated mission, made more so by the fact that we are fighting
within densely-populated areas. We are operating in such way that along with
hitting the terrorists, we will preserve lives and prevent humanitarian
disaster in Rafah.

We understand that in the present military intensity, the terrorist don't
have an actual way to handle us. The pictures they spread are mainly a
reconstruction of pictures previously released. As an result of our
understanding of the need to provide humanitarian aid to the civilian
population, we have been enabling a steady flow of humanitarian aid into the
city including 40 truckloads of food, medicine and oxygen tanks, ambulances,
electricity repair trucks, and other necessary supplies. In this operation
we are taking under consideration the need to prevent a humanitarian
disaster. There is no lack of water or other means. We distributed flyers
which explained the purpose of the operation. We have asked the civilians to
enter their houses and not to stay in the streets so they won't get hurt.

Damage to roads was necessary to prevent the planting of explosive devices
on the roads. Terrorists have planted before explosive devices underneath
the roads and inside buildings' walls. The movement of the forces through
yards is in order to protect the lives of our soldiers.

Until now the operation went on as expected. There is a changing military
intensity. So far we achieved all the goals we set to this operation and
right now the operation continues.

We uncovered an opening of a large tunnel which used apparently to smuggle
RPG missiles, hit terrorist who are protecting these tunnels and arrested
terrorists who are terrorist organization operatives. So far dozens of
gunmen were killed.

Unfortunately, the gunmen also hit civilians, for example an incident
occurred on the second day of the operation in which the forces called
several suspects to get out of the houses and when those came out, they were
fired by gunmen from a house nearby and killed. Fire was returned against
those who opened fire and they were killed.

It is a long time that we are operating against the tunnels infrastructure.
In the current terrorist activity there is a clear danger and a big threat
of smuggling weapons into the Gaza Strip.

Approximately 40 terrorists were killed during the operation up until now.

The terror organizations are conducting a very sophisticated propaganda,
campaign. For example, in the incident of the procession, the primary report
by Palestinians was about 23 who were killed and they published pictures
which were not related to this incident in order to mislead who ever sees
them.

Regarding the number of houses that have been demolished- the large numbers
which were released relate to the ongoing fighting of the last three years
and not only to the past few weeks. The structures were demolished only to
protect our forces.

We are taking all means to prevent unnecessary damage. For example, we are
endangering our soldiers and sending them into houses in order to make sure
that they are clear from residents.

We have decided to reduce the intensity of the operation in order to allow
the civilian population in Rafah to get supplies.

The need for such an operation comes from the intelligence we have, that on
the edge of Sinai the terror organizations are arming themselves with
weapons that are designated to be smuggled into the Gaza Strip and we see
this as a real threat.

The operation will end as soon as we will achieve our goals, it is clear
that when we are operating in such a large magnitude, the duration of the
operation is limited and that is why we have to allow the civilian
population equip themselves.

We knew about the procession previously and we contacted the coordination
and Liaison offices with the request to prevent the procession. The
procession begun at the center of Rafah toward the Tel- Sultan neighborhood.
We fired flares from helicopter in order to prevent the procession from
getting near the forces. Shots fired a distance from the crowd had no effect
nor did machine gun fire, so we decided to fire a shell in order to cause an
effect of a distanced explosion. From the point where the tank was located
the procession could not be seen. There was no intention of hurting the
demonstrators at any stage.

Several gunmen were among those seven demonstrators who killed, what
actually shows that the terrorists are exploiting opportunities. We know
that the method of terrorists is to take innocent children and use them as a
human shield while attacking the forces.

It should be noted that residents of Rafah exposed a tunnel in order to
prevent themselves from suffering. They went to the owner of the tunnel,
destroyed his house and even shot him dead. Most residents are against
terror activity among them.

The Palestinians didn't bury the bodies of those killed, they put the bodies
aside in an intention to show that we made terrible actions and they even
started doing this three days before the operation begun.

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